WASHINGTON - Jahlil Okafor's string of four straight DNPs came to an end Saturday. He quickly made up for lost time at the basket.
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"[I] was being active, playing with a lot of energy, playing as hard as I can," Okafor said. "It felt good to be back on the court."
Okafor got off to a hot start, scoring nine points in six first quarter minutes. He dropped another seven in the second. Okafor had a quiet third with four points - the Sixers only scored 15 in the quarter. He played the entire fourth quarter and added another six points.
"Jahlil Okafor is a professional scorer," Brett Brown said. "For him to just jump into an NBA game and be given 35 minutes, him being very, very good fitness-wise, and for him to score like he scored at 21 years old, that's Jahlil Okafor. That's what he does."
Okafor had been out of the lineup as the Sixers' rotation tightened to just 10 players. Of the four centers on the team, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel were included while Okafor and Richaun Holmes sat out.
Brown decided to start Okafor on Saturday because Embiid was out on the second game of a back-to-back. Okafor said Brown told him a week ago he would get the nod in Washington, but that he has not been informed of his role moving forward.
Brown considers Okafor to be a starting-caliber player while he is caught up in the logjam of bigs.
"He's an NBA starter," Brown said. "Anybody that looks at it is going to see, he had 26, he could have had 30 in a heartbeat."
Okafor's 35:28 stands out the most on the box score. The number is striking considering he has not played in an NBA game since Jan. 3. Even that, he clocked just 10 minutes. Okafor pointed to the extra work he has been putting in at the training complex to keep up his conditioning.
"I did feel myself getting winded, but I was about to fight through it a little bit," he said. "I worked as hard as I could. After practice I was staying in the gym, I would come back later in the night just to stay ready. An NBA game is so fast paced that I didn't want to look weak or tired."
Noel, who missed 23 games earlier in the season, appreciates the challenges of coming back after an absence.
"He looked like a man," Noel said. "I'm proud of him. He endured what he had to go through and came back and showed what he's capable of. That definitely shows his maturity and his professionalism."
The Sixers have back-to-back games on Jan. 20 and 21, one of which Embiid will sit and Okafor will play. Whether or not Okafor suits up in either of the two contests before then is uncertain. The team will work him back into the lineup when he does play.
"My teammates put me in great positions to score," Okafor said. "They were amazing. They know I've been going through a tough time. They've seen me work hard and tonight they were just letting me know they have my back and wanted to see me do well. I felt good having the support of my teammates."